Best Questions for Applicants

One way to waste less time in doing applicant interviews — and at the same time improve the quality of your hiring decisions — is to ask applicants the right questions.

You can improve the value of what you learn in interviews by taking time to prepare productive questions.

Don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking and to have pleasant social conversations. Here are some points to consider:

1. Make inquiries designed to relax applicants. When applicants are comfortable with interviewers, they may be more open, off-guard, and likely to reveal more.

Example: “What’s the most exciting or most enjoyable work you’ve done? What about it did you enjoy most?” Answers to these two questions may also give you clues to an applicant’s behavior/performance style.

2. Ask questions which cause some stress for applicants — especially if the job requires dealing with stress. Have two or three questions that surprise applicants, and possibly create a little discomfort, to see how well they deal with unexpected stress.

Example: If an applicant’s response to the two questions above (about the most exciting or most enjoyable work) reveal a type of work different from the position the applicant is interviewing for, ask this follow-up question: “Why don’t you pursue this type of work instead of applying for this position?”

Another example: “What will your most recent supervisors tell us about your job-related weaknesses and problems?”

3. Ask questions which will verify facts you already know about applicants and questions which will give you facts you can verify in background checks. Ask questions to verify and clarify information and statements given on the application form or in the applicant’s resume.

4. Ask questions which give you clues about an applicant’s behavior/performance style. Know in advance the kind of style the job needs, such as a stable, steady worker, not a talker, and not a socializer.

Example: “What about you and your work and life experiences would help us believe you will perform this position well?”

More examples: “What’s the most boring job you’ve ever had? How long did you have it? What made this job boring for you? What did you do to keep reporting to work for this boring job?” Another example: “What do you do to have fun? What kind of volunteer activities have you done or are you currently involved in? Tell us about why you participated in these activities.”

5. Ask questions designed to give clues to an applicant’s attitude toward work, work ethic, reliability and willingness to do the job.

Example: “Think about your three most recent jobs. Where do you see you could have improved in your work-related performance and skills?” The response may also give you information you can verify with previous supervisors.

Another example: “What would your last two employers or supervisors tell us about your job attendance and your punctuality? Approximately how many days of work did you miss in your last two jobs, not counting your approved vacation and sick leave?” This response also may give you information you can verify with previous supervisors.

6. Ask questions designed to give you clues to the applicant’s attitude toward co-workers and supervisors, as well as the applicant’s likelihood of getting along with others on the job.

Example: “Tell me about the strengths and weaknesses of your previous supervisors.” Listen for criticisms of previous supervisors and managers, and for criticisms of previous workplaces. A pattern of past unhappy relationships can be a prediction of continued unhappy relationships in new jobs.

7. Ask questions dealing with the essential job functions and job qualifications given in the job description.

Example: “A job duty in this position is to efficiently assemble boxes for shipping a three-ring binder. Tell us what you have done in the past which especially qualifies you to do this.” Then, give the applicant an opportunity to demonstrate this ability.

8. Consider asking key questions to help you decide if the applicant really fits the job.

Example: “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all and 10 being excellent, how would you rate this position?” Then, ask a follow-up question: “What type of work would you give a rating of 10?” The answers to these two questions can help indicate whether or not the applicant’s interests really fit the job. If the applicant gives your job a 6, but gives another kind of work a 10, he or she may not be satisfied in the job you have open.

Another example: “If we don’t hire you, where will you most likely end up working? What type of work will you be doing?” If the answer describes work vastly different from the position you have open, the applicant may not be a good fit for your job.

3 thoughts on “Best Questions for Applicants


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